City Hall Visits Sin City and Musk’s Boring Co.
Will what the Development Services Department learned in Vegas stay in Vegas?
By Austin Sanders, Fri., April 15, 2022
Ten employees with the city's Development Services Department flew out to Las Vegas earlier this week to meet with representatives of the Boring Company, the Las Vegas Convention Center, and their counterparts in Clark County to better "understand best practices for permitting subgrade mobility infrastructure," a DSD spokesperson confirmed for the Chronicle.
The DSD employees are all from the department's building plan and land use division and the trip cost $9,900 in total, paid from the DSD budget. Staffers began arriving Tuesday, April 12, and were slated to return Wednesday and Thursday, April 13 and 14. The spokesperson described the purpose of the trip as a discussion of the challenges a peer city has faced in planning new subgrade transportation projects, such as those that may be needed to support the Project Connect transit system and expansion of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. "Management staff tasked with permitting these systems in Austin will have the opportunity to view the Boring Company's construction site and visit with the permitting municipality," the spokesperson said. (That's Clark County, as the Las Vegas Strip and the LVCC lie outside the city limits.)
The Boring Co. is Elon Musk's thus-far-unrealized attempt to revolutionize transportation by building underground tunnels traversed by AI-driven cars capable of navigating the caverns at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, all without causing traffic jams. In reality, the two 0.8-mile-long tunnels in operation under Las Vegas carry regular Teslas driven by regular humans, at speeds around 40 mph. They reportedly cost about $50 million to construct, which is inexpensive for an underground mobility project, but "The Boring Company avoided the most complex and costly aspects of transportation projects, [and] shrunk it in both scale and the number of people it will supposedly serve," Motherboard's Aaron Gordon wrote one year ago, "then bragged about how little it cost to build."
Other than the two Vegas tunnels, Boring has not completed any other projects open for public use – proposed projects in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., have apparently fizzled out. Still, the DSD spokesperson said staff met with Boring and Clark County officials to "learn more about the specific technology and construction methodology used for Boring Company infrastructure, and the process Clark County implemented to review and permit" their tunnels. The site visit could also provide insights into how DSD could review and permit a similar tunnel project in Austin, the spokesperson said.
Musk, who is also CEO of Austin-based Tesla, has discussed his intentions to bore tunnels under Austin. Boring Co. has not submitted a project to DSD for review, though the company has met with DSD staff to "discuss city regulations."
Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.